AN outbreak of avian botulism has led to the death of more than 50 birds at Birkenhead Park.
The RSPCA have spent the last two days travelling around Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester collecting both dead and dying birds that have contracted the disease - caused by bacteria - as well as those yet to show signs of symptoms.
Seven several-month-old cygnets and their parents are among the wildfowl to fall victim to the illness at Birkenhead Park.
RSPCA Inspector Anthony Joynes described it as a “terrible” and “sad” time and referred to the current operation as a “mercy mission”.
He said: “It is not just Birkenhead Park but we’ve had over 50 birds die there.
“We’ve been going all over Cheshire and Greater Manchester collecting dead birds – the wildlife centre in Nantwich is completely overrun with birds with it.
“It has not been a nice job, it’s been like a mercy mission.
“We are trying to save them but they go downhill really fast.
“As well as collecting dead birds we’ve having to end the suffering of others. It’s terrible, it’s really sad.
“It will run its course and the animals will recover but it’s just really sad,” said Inspector Joynes.
“The people of Birkenhead are brilliant with all the wildlife, they feed them every day and this is unfortunate because it’s obviously very sad for everyone.
“It has killed a large quantity of animals but the park will recover.”
He praised Birkenhead Park’s rangers for their work but said the people of Birkenhead need to do more to look after the beauty spot.
“People take white bread to feed the birds which they shouldn’t be doing anyway but they throw the bread in and the bag, there are beer can holders everywhere.
“Maybe this will serve as a push for everyone who visits this beautiful park to take more care of it.
“It isn’t just up to the rangers and the RSPCA, everyone needs to take responsibility for the park and everyone who visits should leave it as it is.”
Signs have been placed around the park warning people of the dangers of avian botulism.
Although avian botulism can be passed on to dogs and humans, Inspector Joynes said the park is safe as long as people practice good hygiene.
He added: “As long as people don’t let their dogs in the water. If their dogs go swimming they could be at risk.
“Good levels of hygiene are always important but more so with this but as long as no one goes into the water, they will be fine.”
Wirral Council has placed signs around the park's lakes warning people of the outbreak.
The signs read: "Several birds have died this summer here and around the area. Botulism may be the cause due to the hot weather. This illness is infectious and affects dogs and humans as well as birds.
"Do not enter the water. Do not let dogs enter the water."
The authority says it is working closely with the RSPCA and is urging people not to feed the remaining birds as that could exacerbate the problem.
Cllr Chris Meaden, Wirral’s cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, said: "This is very sad, and we are very grateful for the support of the RSPCA in helping us deal with this outbreak.
"We are confident that the lakes will re-stock naturally, but the loss of these birds has been very keenly felt by the staff and people who use the park.
"We would like to dispel speculation on social media that this has been caused by a deliberate poisoning of the water; avian botulism is naturally occurring and is affecting birds across Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire and some parts of the Midlands, caused largely by the hot weather.
"We are working hard, with the support of the RSPCA, to improve aeration of the water, keep the lake topped up, and remove all dead and ailing birds as soon as possible. We are appealing to the public to keep themselves and their dogs out of the water, and to desist from throwing bread for birds into the lakes."